Frugal foodie: agony at the farmers’ market
I had a sort of mini-vacation last week; didn’t go anywhere, but took off work to hang with a visiting friend. I had every intention of posting during the break, but … I was too busy playing. And eating. Stacy and I are both unapologetic foodies, which means we spent much of our time bouncing between restaurants, markets, and kitchens …
I’ve been trying to hit the farmers’ markets as much as possible this summer, but I’m finding those visits increasingly stressful. I am hugely in favor of both buying local and supporting small farms, but that desire is at war with my equally strong tendency toward frugality.
Today I was talking with a friend who lives in the DC metro area; he extolled the cheapness of farmers’ market produce, which he reckons as being about on par pricewise with the budget grocery chains like Safeway, but with consistently superior quality. I was envious to say the least. In the Seattle area, even Whole Foods is often cheaper than the farmers’ markets. This week, a pint container of organic multicolored cherry tomatoes is $4.50 at various farmer stalls, but only $2.99 at Whole Foods.
Last Thursday I tried a different market from my usual, in hopes that maybe it was a neighborhood thing, but no — still expensive. I did walk away with some cheap zucchini (three large for $2!), but otherwise the prices were astronomical. Peaches were $4/pound; I bought four small ones. They were much more flavorful than the ones I got at Fred Meyer for .79/pound, but at a dollar for about six bites, they were no bargain.
Tom reports that in Maryland, eggs at the farmers’ market go for $3.25 or $3.50 per dozen. Last week I saw eggs at the market listed at $5 and $6 per dozen. At the regular grocery they run around $2.50, and by watching for sales I can cut that considerably — this weekend I got two dozen for $2.69 in a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Costco regularly carries two dozen for under $3.
I have no idea why market produce is so expensive here. Perhaps it’s another manifestation of our (relatively) robust local economy, and farmers are merely charging what the market will bear. Perhaps Seattleites have such a green-and-local focus that the demand outstrips the supply — certainly the markets have been mobbed every day I’ve been since June.
Meanwhile, my internal battle rages on. Lately I’ve been compromising by buying certain ‘treat’ foods where flavor quality is most important — the sweet peaches, Rainier cherries, assorted berries — from the farmers’ markets, and getting the bulk of our staples from grocery sales and Costco. But I sure do wish I could satisfy both mandates at the same time instead of having to choose.